Saying “Yes” This Easter

This week, I had the opportunity to speak at a ladies’ event at my church. Being so close to Easter, I was asked to share about my response to Jesus’ death on the cross.

At first, I had absolutely no idea what to say. What is my response to the cross? I feel as though I can’t fully take in all that Jesus has done for me, and therefore can’t come up with an adequate response to the cross. The cross overwhelms me.

But as I thought and prayed about it, what I began to realize is that Jesus is continually teaching and moving me, and my response to what He has done for me is always changing. As I learn and grow in my relationship with Him, I am able to respond in different, and hopefully deeper ways.

Right now, I am in a season of learning to say “yes” to God, in many different kinds of situations. But each time, I do this because of what He has done for me. I step out in faith, because He has shown He is faithful.

This adventure I’m on with Him has shown me that the cross not only gives me eternal life in the future, it gives me abundant life right now. That’s what is blowing my mind this Easter. So I respond by saying “yes” to Him, again and again and again.

What is your response to God this Easter?

When We Share Our Stories

For the next week, I’ll be posting some of my favorite posts from the archives. I’m speaking at a ladies retreat the first weekend of March, and want to focus on preparing for the sessions I’ll be teaching.

I’ve re-posted readers’ favorites before, but those are not necessarily my personal favorites – the ones that came from the deepest part of me, and seemed to bring some kind of healing and truth to my life as I wrote them. I hope you enjoy them, the second time around!

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true story

Do you ever think about how important it is to share your stories?

To tell other people, “On my own, I’m kind of a mess, but let me tell you about what Jesus has done in my life”?

We live in a culture where people share lots of things very openly – social media allows us to expose the everyday details of life in a very public way – much more than ever before. But lots of those details end up being surface stuff.

Do you ever share the deeper stuff? I think that’s the stuff that needs to be shared a lot more than it is.

There’s a story in the Bible (Luke, to be exact) about a man who was possessed by demons. He was completely incapable of living a normal life – he ran around naked, broke chains with his unnatural strength, and lived in a graveyard.

But one day Jesus came along, wasn’t scared by him, and told the demons that it was time to get out.

They didn’t like that idea, so they came up with a different suggestion – they requested to be sent into a nearby herd of pigs. Jesus did this, and as a result, the pigs went crazy, and ran over the side of a cliff into the lake. End of demons.

The man was a big fan of Jesus after this, for obvious reasons. He wanted to follow Jesus wherever He was planning on going. You’d think that Jesus would be okay with that, seeing as He already had a bunch of men traveling with him. But Jesus said to him, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”

It was more important for the man to go home and tell his story than it was for him to go with Jesus. That was the role Jesus wanted him to fill.

And then the very next story is the one about the woman who was bleeding for 12 years. She reached out to touch Jesus’ cloak, and was healed instantly.

When she touched Him, He stopped and asked, “Who touched me?” He knew that someone had been healed by touching His cloak. But being Jesus, wouldn’t He also have already known who it was?

I found it really interesting that Jesus made her step forward and publicly announce that she was healed. He made her tell her story to all the people there.

Some people boldly asked for healing, but this woman quietly reached out to touch Him as He walked by. The whole thing could have happened unannounced.

But Jesus stopped and asked her to identify herself.

Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

Why did He do that? In the presence of all the people…

I don’t know for sure what all of the reasons were behind it, but I do know that something happens to us when we share – when we tell people what Jesus has done for us.

There are times when I really don’t want to.

It makes me look bad when I air my dirty laundry for everyone to see. There’s a part of me that is always, always afraid people will look down on me, and think I’m pathetic, or maybe I’ll end up actually being the only person in the world who thinks such immature, selfish, sinful thoughts.

If I do get brave enough to share the whole “Before and After” story, I’m afraid that people will get stuck on the “before” part, in which I look ugly, rather than the “after”, in which Jesus looks fantastic.

But guess what has happened almost every time I’ve chosen to be open and vulnerable? Someone else has been able to identify with my experience, or gotten the courage to open up too, or been encouraged to keep going when things are really hard.

Good things happen when we share our stories. But we have to be brave, and not listen to the part of us that’s afraid. We have to trust that if Jesus thinks it’s a good idea, then good things will come out of it.

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Have you ever had a great experience that happened because you were willing to share your story?

I Don’t Have Enough Faith

On Wednesday, I wrote brave words about teaching my girls strength through my weakness.

On Thursday, I broke down and wanted to take it all back, just for a minute….

Over the years since I first got sick, I’ve been prayed over many, many times for healing. I’ve been anointed with oil, and I’ve had hands laid on me, and great people of great faith have prayed boldly and confidently for me.

I’ve prayed for healing for myself far more times than I could ever count, sometimes with faith, and sometimes in pure desperation. But that miraculous healing hasn’t come yet for me.

And when I came across people who said, “Just pray with faith. If you have enough faith, then Jesus will heal you,” it always left me feeling like I wasn’t enough.

I wasn’t faithful enough, I wasn’t trusting enough, I didn’t believe enough, or maybe, just maybe… could it be that God didn’t care enough?

Other people got their miracles. Why couldn’t I get mine?

Waiting for a miracle brought me to a crisis of faith more than once along the way. But somehow, I always found my way through. I always hung on to Jesus, sometimes just enough to barely get by – but not enough to eliminate those lingering feelings of doubt that my sickness was my fault.

I didn’t have enough faith.

In the midst of my health issues, we were waiting for a baby. Two miscarriages, and it felt like no baby would ever come. But I kept begging and praying and pleading, and once again, it just seemed as though I didn’t have enough faith.

I didn’t deserve a baby, because I didn’t trust God enough.

But one day, as I knelt by our bed, begging God for a miracle, it suddenly hit me that He already was giving me a miracle – just not the one I wanted.

I was asking for the miracle of a baby, but God was giving me the strength to hang on, and somehow keep going, choosing Him even when things were hard.

Which was the greater miracle?

And so I tried to thank Him for the miracle of His presence and provision, even if it wasn’t the miraculous baby I was begging for.

But then, exactly two weeks after I was told a baby was completely, physically impossible, I stood in our bathroom holding a positive pregnancy test.

And I felt like I didn’t deserve it.

I hadn’t earned it. I hadn’t learned enough yet. I didn’t have enough faith. I hadn’t learned to trust God enough. I hadn’t found enough joy in the midst of this hardship.

But that day was the beginning of learning that I can NEVER do enough to earn it. I can never have enough faith, enough trust, enough of anything to actually deserve God’s mercy and grace and blessing.

He just gives it anyway.

So I held our miracle baby in my arms, and I wondered if maybe, just maybe…God could heal me even if I didn’t have enough faith. Or maybe…He could be enough, even if I spent the rest of my life dealing with health issues.

Yesterday, my friend reminded me of this passage in Daniel:

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. (Daniel 3:17-18)

Even if He does not.

That’s what I’ve learned. I think it’s the most important thing anyone can learn about faith and prayer and miracles, this side of Heaven.

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He is so far above me, I cannot begin to understand.

Am I okay with not having an answer?

Am I okay with not getting the miracle I’m asking for?

I believe He wants to give great and wonderful gifts to His precious children. But we live in a fallen world. He calls us to bring His kingdom to pass here on Earth, but it’s still all fallen.

So one day He’ll come and clean up the whole mess, and redeem our feeble attempts at “kingdom here on earth”, and Anika and I agree that we will eat ice cream every day from that day on, and I’ll ride my bike a lot.

Or maybe we won’t, and we won’t even care. Who knows.

All I know is that I trust Him. I trust Him for the miracle. I trust Him if He chooses to skip the miracle, and waits to heal me on that glorious day when He returns, and I meet our two babies I’ve never known.

He is good if He saves me, and I trust Him if He doesn’t.

Do I have “enough faith”?

Nope, probably not. I don’t really have enough anything, but that’s okay, because Jesus is enough, and I’m hanging on.

And so every once in a while, I come across people who suggest that all we need is enough faith. And then, all I need is a quiet corner to wrestle down those doubts that have plagued me for years. I give it all back to Jesus again. I surrender my life again.

And I say, once again, “Jesus, I believe you can heal me. But even if you don’t, I’m still choosing to trust You.

I hang on tight, and then we do it all over again.

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What are you holding on for today? Is it ever hard to keep believing that Jesus is enough, even if the miracle isn’t coming?

I know that some of these things are too hard, too personal, to be able to share with the general public in the comments section, but please know that if you ever need to get it out, and want someone to listen, you can send me an email. I’ll listen and pray, and hold on with you!

Dear Homeless Person, Please Take My Scarf.

I was sitting in a Tim Hortons a few weeks ago, having coffee with a friend, when I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder, and heard someone say, “Hi, there!”

I turned around, and tried my very hardest to figure out who the man might be who was standing there, grinning down at me as though he knew me.

But then he started talking, and it took about two seconds to realize this would be one of “those” conversations – the kind you know you will have if you don’t walk very quickly past the person begging on the street, along with the feelings you are guaranteed to have if you happen to be the first car in line at a red light, and happen to make eye contact with the homeless man standing there with his cardboard sign, asking for your help.

I do not have a lot of experience with these types of interactions. I don’t spend much time in places where they happen. We don’t have a lot of homeless people in Niverville.

I used to believe the best thing to do was to get out of the situation as quickly as possible, and I never used to think I should actually give my money, because we all know how it will get spent , right??

Whatever. I’m not sure at what point I finally learned that it’s none of my business what it gets spent on. If I have loose change, I give it, and I let God take care of the rest.

I’ve rolled down my window at a red light, and dumped my collection of dimes and nickels into the hands of a very grateful elderly man. He was also extremely thankful for my leftover lunch.

I have felt those nudges from the Holy Spirit, and have known what it’s like to listen, to give my time and my money, even when I don’t exactly feel like it.

So when this man came over at Tim Horton’s, I thought things would go okay, even if I don’t have a ton of experience with those types of situations.

He asked if he could sit down and talk with us. Seeing as the table right beside us was empty, I figured it wouldn’t make much difference whether I said yes or no – he’d sit down beside us anyway.

He made himself comfortable, and started talking. And talking and talking. I was still doing okay, because I kept thinking about how I could easily give a few minutes of my day to listen.

But then he started talking about how much he wanted a girlfriend, and asked me out on a date. When I turned him down, he tried my friend, which was equally unsuccessful. He wanted numerous hugs, and that’s about the point where I shut down.

Suddenly, I didn’t care about giving my time or a listening ear. I had reached the limit of my comfort zone.

I just wanted out.

He kept asking us for stuff. He wanted me to give him something from my purse – nail polish or lipstick. I honestly told him I didn’t have any. So he asked my friend if she had any, and she said no, but she had almonds.

He was very happy for almonds, but then he wanted the bracelet she was wearing, so she took it off and gave it to him.

In my mind, I was thinking, “No, no, no, get me out of here! This is not cool anymore.”

So when he asked me for my scarf, the first thing that popped out of my mouth was “no”.

There were a few things I was thinking when he asked for my scarf:

1) He has a good-quality jacket, and a very warm winter hat. He doesn’t need my scarf.

2) No, no, no, get me out of here!

3) This is my most favorite scarf. I use it all the time.

Nope. No scarf.

And I didn’t even feel guilty for saying no. There was absolutely no nudge from the Holy Spirit on that one.

My friend and I left soon after that, because there was no way we could finish our conversation in the restaurant, so we went and talked in my car.

She had to catch her bus soon after that, and I drove home, thinking the whole way about how she had handed over those almonds with absolutely no hesitation.

And I felt ridiculous. It was a scarf, for crying out loud. Could I not have gone out and bought another one?

I kept arguing with myself – I didn’t feel the Holy Spirit telling me to give it. I would have, if I’d felt the nudge. Obviously.

But I’m not sure when I would have heard any heavenly direction, amidst my “No, no, no, get me out of here!”

Since then, it seems as though every single sermon illustration, or Bible study topic, or verse, or anything, has to do with giving stuff to the poor.

It’s to the point where a homeless person would only need to look at my scarf, and I would hand it over. The joy has kinda gone out of wearing it.

I’ve hashed this out with Ben, numerous times. He’s better at these kinds of things.

I keep asking him, “How do you know? Do you always need to give? I didn’t hear the Holy Spirit! The man looked warm! And it’s my favorite!”

And Ben just says, “It’s never wrong to give.

(My favorite green scarf. Photo by Jillian Tree.)

I still don’t know how this all works. I know there are people out there who know exactly how to act in situations like mine. But I also know there are people who probably feel as clueless and uncomfortable as I do.

And I know that I need practice. I need to go to soup kitchens or to other organizations that bridge this awkward gap. I need to get out of my comfort zone, and learn to give and love and share.

I need to go out and find someone who needs my scarf. I need a second chance.

I forgot that it was really Jesus asking for my scarf.

I was naked and you clothed me…

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How do you do this? How do you give, and get out of your comfort zone? Do you ever wish you could go back and try again?

Beautiful People

I came across this in Blogland yesterday, and loved it.

found here

It made me remember the Christmas my first boyfriend dumped me.

His present was wrapped and waiting under the Christmas tree, but when he came home from college, he never called.

I remember going to church on Christmas eve, and feeling like I hated the girl who said to me, “Oh, well, there are plenty of other fish in the sea!”

Like I was looking for quantity.

When we got home, my mom told me she had talked with two of her friends about the disappointment I was going through. They both promised to pray for me.

My mom said, “And they’re the kind of ladies who really know how to pray!”

Both of them had experienced great suffering and disappointment in their own lives. My little break-up wasn’t a big deal compared to the things they had weathered, and yet they didn’t treat it as small.

And you know what? It wasn’t.

Because that is the night I went to my room and thought good and hard about what I wanted the rest of my life to be like.

I thought about those women, strong, caring, prayer warriors, and I knew I wanted to be like them when I was older.

But I also knew that night what it would take to get there – it was their hardships that had made them strong. Rough winds had taught them how to bend without breaking, and their roots went down deep.

That night, I knew what I wanted did not come cheap or easy…but I knew, without a doubt, I wanted it anyway.

I knelt by my bed, and I prayed that God would give me depth. That He would teach me how to be strong and true, no matter what life brought my way. Or maybe because of what life brought my way.

And although it scared me like crazy, I asked Him to do whatever it took to teach me to be like those women. I was young, and maybe I didn’t fully understand what I was praying, but I definitely had a glimpse that night, with my broken heart and my desperate hunger for more of Jesus.

It’s funny, because I do not desire hard or difficult things to come into my life, but I crave the growth that happens. It seems as though some growth can only happen along with the pain – pruning is followed by new life.

You can see it in people, can’t you? You know when you’re with someone who has been through the depths. How true it is that beautiful people don’t just happen.

Jesus happens to them. And they choose Him, over and over again, no matter what they suffer, because they know it’s not about this life anyway. They choose joy, because experience has taught them that pain can always be followed by something wonderful.

I want to be like that!

Am I Making Disciples?

Oh, guys. I just listened to an AMAZING message by Francis Chan. It’s the kind of message that makes you want to jump up the second it’s over, and change your whole life and live for Jesus twenty thousand times more than what you already are.

If you want to listen to it, go here and scroll down through all of the messages until you get to the one called “Love God Love People”. And then listen to it. Right away. And then come change the world with me?

There were so many things he said that challenged me, but the part where he asked, “Are you making a disciple?” really got me. Because that’s what it’s all about, right?

As we prepare to leave camp, Ben and I have lots of talks about what we dream for the future. In our whole married life, we have never been without a ministry. And now we’re taking everything we’ve learned, and all that God’s done for us, and we’re bringing it with us “into the real world”, and that’s just so exciting…and so scary. I’m scared I’ll settle into “normal life” and forget everything, and I don’t want to. I don’t want to care about all the materialistic junk that can suck a person in so fast.

I just want to care about people.

But that won’t be Ben’s “official” job anymore. Now we’ll just do it for fun! Well, it’s always been fun. But now it’s for real. Ben says he just wants to get together with a bunch of young men and disciple them. Sounds good! I’m going to start praying for God to send me some girls! I’m really excited to see what God’s going to do with us and in us and through us.

I know that doesn’t always look dramatic and exciting. Sometimes it’s just the boring, everyday stuff, done with the right heart. But I’m really hoping and praying that He’ll send some cool opportunities our way.

Because life is fast, as Francis Chan says, and I want to do something that really matters before the end. It’s all about loving God, and loving people, and I have so much to learn about both those things.

Demons and Flying Objects and Eyes Glowing in the Dark, Oh My!

I can clearly remember the day I was introduced to the idea that spiritual warfare existed.

I was an innocent girl at camp, sitting at a picnic table with my friends, and my camp counselor took it upon herself to educate me.

I sat there frozen to the wooden bench, my eyes probably the size of saucers, listening in horror as she told the story of a young boy who had felt a presence in the room, and turned around to see yellow eyes glowing in the dark. Somewhere in there, either he was thrown at the wall, or an object from his room were thrown at the wall, I don’t remember.

Maybe I was on overload at that point, and things start to get a bit fuzzy….

Anyway. I heard the odd story through the years after that, but I didn’t really face the idea of spiritual warfare until I was in college.

At that time, my mom gave me a copy of The Bondage Breaker, because she felt it would be helpful to use during my summers at camp. I never did come across anything crazy at camp, and I didn’t spend much time reading the book at that point.

One of my friends borrowed it from me, however, and had a really life-changing experience as a result.

After that, another chunk of time past without the topic coming up.

Until the fall Ben and I got married, and moved into our first home, a cozy little apartment.

We had only been married for about two months when really strange things started happening to me. It started very subtly at first – weird thoughts would suddenly zip through my mind out of nowhere. Not “normal” thoughts – thoughts unlike anything I usually thought about. Or sometimes just the same thought, over and over and over again, until I felt like I would go crazy.

I didn’t understand what was happening to me, and decided to try and wait it out.

But rather than going away, the problem got worse. The thoughts going through my mind got increasingly dirty and sinful, thoughts I had no desire to be thinking, but couldn’t seem to stop. I also started having nightmares – worse than anything I’d had before, about extremely dark, violent things. Sometimes when Ben and I were talking in bed before turning out the light, I would have a very real sense that a presence was behind me, and I’d be terrified to get out of bed.

Because the thoughts I was having were so dirty and awful, I felt very ashamed. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but something inside told me that no one must find out what was happening to me, because had become evil and dirty.

So I kept it all a secret from Ben for as long as I could. But one night, I couldn’t take it anymore, and broke down in front of him.

I was petrified that it would destroy our marriage. I spilled it all out, and then waited in silence for what seemed like forever, terrified to hear what Ben’s reaction would be.

And after that silence, which probably wasn’t all that long, Ben reached out to me, and said, “Kendra, that’s not you.”

He suggested we go see our pastor, because although Ben didn’t know a lot about it, he felt quite sure we were dealing with some kind of spiritual warfare.

I made an appointment, but in the meantime, I remembered my copy of The Bondage Breaker.

One night while Ben was at work, I settled down to do some reading. At the end of the book are many different prayers to use when dealing with spiritual warfare. It is recommended to say these prayers aloud, which I fully intended on doing.

However, every time I tried to say the prayer, I would begin crying uncontrollably. I couldn’t get any words out because I was crying so hard.

I must have tried five different times to say the prayer, only to have my body break out into these violent sobs. I didn’t feel sad, I had no desire to cry, it was just happening to me.

Finally, I managed to get the words out, and could calm myself down. It was an incredibly odd experience. I didn’t really know what I was doing.

Ben and I prayed those prayers together regularly, asking for cleansing for me and for our apartment, until we went to see our pastor.

It was so good to talk with him, because he explained to me how it was not sinful to have those thoughts enter my head, but it would be sinful to choose to dwell on them. Satan is often tempting us with wrong thoughts, and it is possible for him to introduce the thought into our head, and making us believe it’s our thought, and that we do  want to think about it. Our job is to resist.

We went home feeling better equipped to deal with the issue. I started memorizing all kinds of verses about thoughts, purity, the Armor of God, anything to help me fight against the thoughts that wanted to set up camp in my head.

Ben and I also prayed over every room in our little apartment, even the storage room, every day for a month. We prayed every night for protection from awful dreams.

But there was one little problem – in the suggested prayer from The Bondage Breaker, there was a line that said something like, “May the thoughts I chose to fill my mind with during the day, continue to fill my mind at night.”

That assumed the thoughts I had during the day were pleasing to Jesus in every way.

And most of the time, they were, but Ben and I were quite liberal in what we chose to watch on TV. Nothing too crazy, of course. Just the usual stuff.

But every time I prayed about the thoughts I’d had that day, my conscience bothered me. One night, I was in bed, reading my Bible and praying, while Ben was in the living room, watching an episode of Friends on TV.

I loved watching Friends. But when I wasn’t actually watching it, and the lines I overheard were interrupting my devotions, suddenly all the funny stuff wasn’t so funny. I realized how desensitized I was to all of the negative joking, references to sex, and many, many other comments we had come to accept as “normal”.

Well, we decided to clean things up a lot after that. People we talked to about it thought we were ridiculous, but we found that as we regained our sensitivity, our desire to watch stuff we would have in the past…got a lot weaker. I still had twinges of desire, but we kept each other accountable, and stayed strong. Now we don’t miss it at all.

It took a long time (a few months?) to really get control over the thoughts, dreams, feeling just a weight of depression/anxiety/fear that seemed to settle on me for no apparent reason. But eventually, it did get better.

Since then, I haven’t really had much trouble with dreams, but sometimes my thoughts or that old heavy weight type of feeling come back. Then we know we’ve slacked off too much with praying for protection, and haven’t noticed little thoughts or attitudes sneaking up.

So that’s my story. I’m not saying that it’s evil for everyone to watch Friends. Here’s what I am saying:

1. Find out what you’re dealing with. There are good books out there on the topic. Read them.

2. But don’t get into the habit of thinking that everything is spiritual warfare. I heard someone say once that it gives Satan way too much credit. I don’t want to focus on him all the time. I want to focus on Jesus. I would rather pray hard, keep my thoughts clean, be smart, and live a free and joyful life. I really don’t like it when people think every little thing is Satan out to get them. We live in an imperfect world. Junk happens. Pray hard, and carry on. Let’s not get overly dramatic.

3.Take a good hard look at what you give access to, mentally. I have heard sooooo many people say that movies or TV don’t affect them! At all!

But they should. If you’re desensitized, it’s not a good thing. Numb to seeing pain, violence, and sex, and hearing tons of filthy language? I wouldn’t think that would be a desirable thing. I’m not saying we should stick our heads in the sand, and be all legalistic about this. Just be smart. Make conscious choices. Don’t watch junk just because everybody else thinks it’s okay, or because you paid money for your movie ticket. Walking out sucks. It’s humiliating. But very freeing.

4.There is no need to be afraid. Take it seriously, yes. But through Jesus Christ, we have all the power we need. Telling lots of freaky stories to small children is not advisable. Teaching them about the power in Jesus’ name is much more beneficial.

5. Memorizing verses is a very, very, very good thing to do. It is your weapon. Use it.

And that is all for now. If you read all 1500 words I just typed, you deserve an award!

Any other thoughts out there? No scary stories needed, but other comments are welcome!